Human rights advocates call on the Verkhovna Rada to reject the draft bills restricting the right to access court rulings
Multiple public organizations call on the Verkhovna Rada to reject draft bill No.7033d, which provides for restricting access to the court register, and draft bill No.8359, which allows courts not to record their sessions.
This is said in the organizations' statement regarding the Parliament's attempt to baselessly limit the right to information.
According to the authors of the statement, these draft bills are detrimental to the justice system and freedom of speech, as well as the public's access to information, especially during the war and after it is over.
"We believe that the amendments proposed by these draft bills pose a risk of disproportionately limiting society's access to important information and the right to a fair trial, that they will conflict with legal requirements and contradict the values of a democratic society," the statement reads.
The organizations recalled that the Unified State Register of Court Rulings was created in 2006 by the Law "On Access to Court Rulings" and that it was as an important part of bringing the Ukrainian legislation in line with the European laws for the subsequent accession of Ukraine to the European Union.
Draft bill No. 7033d proposes a number of dubious amendments for both the martial law pariod and peacetime, according to the statement.
In particular, the organizations cite the following amendments:
- An expected significant expansion of the list of information that cannot be disclosed in the court rulings. Namely, this concerns the names and locations of critical infrastructure facilities. The problem with this is that the list of such facilities is incomplete and prone to changes, and information on most facilities is already available in open sources (for example, data on the pension and social protection bodies, local self-government bodies and, finally, on the courts). "It makes no sense to hide information 'from the enemy', when the enemy has already known it and had access to it for years. However, withholding it in this way will make it significantly harder for the public to monitor court rulings," the statement reads.
- It is proposed to limit the access to court rulings in cases of special public interest (namely, crimes against the foundations of national security, state secrets protectin, inviolability of the state borders, conscription and mobilization, as well as military service) or the duration of martial law and a year after it is lifted. "Such a restriction is disproportionate and does not meet the society's needs. After all, journalists, lawyers, scholars, public activists will not be able to learn the case details and the court-assigned punishments for state traitors, collaborators, those who assisted the occupiers, etc. Hiding the court rulings will definitely increase tension and mistrust towards the authorities in the Ukrainian society," the statement reads.
- It is planned to give judges the right to arbitrarily remove information stated in rulings in open hearing cases from the court register, which contradicts the general principle of transparency of the judicial process and poses corruption risks.
In its turn, draft law No. 8359 provides "room for abuse in terms of recording the judicial process." According to it, during a war or state of emergency, in the event when fully recording the court session is "objectively impossible," so the secretary effectively only records the key points of the case in the minutes.
"Any judge can interpret what objective impossibility is as they please. The law should have a consistent approach to restricting access to information, so public information should not be classified in court rulings. Otherwise, it jeopardizes the functioning of the Unified State Register of Court Rulings, which is a democratic achievement of Ukrainian society," the statement reads.
The public organizations note that restricting the access to court rulings will set Ukraine back decades in terms of democratic progress – to the level of Russia and Belarus – and will pose a danger to Ukraine's further integration into the European Union. "Currently, the People's Deputies of Ukraine plan to disproportionately restrict Ukrainians from freely receiving information that is of significant public interest, in particular informations about decisions and evidence in cases, as well as about persons accused and convicted of committing crimes," the statement reads.
The statement was signed by: ZMINA Center for Human Rights; Kharkiv Anti-Corruption Center; DEJURE Foundation; Institute of Peace and Understanding; Kharkiv Institute of Social Research; Educational House of Human Rights – Chernihiv; NGO "Ivano-Frankivsk Progress Group"; Institute of Mass Information; Media Initiative for Human Rights; Anti-Corruption Center; UMDPL Association; Ukrainian Legal Advisory Group; CHESNO movement; National Association "Automaidan"; Institute of Legislative Ideas; Center for Civil Liberties; KOF Public Alternative; NGO "Invisible"; Democratic Initiatives Incubator; NGO Expert Group "Sova"; Regional Center for Human Rights; NGO "Human Rights Platform"; Anti-Corruption Staff; CF "Gender Zed"; Transparency International Ukraine; Laboratory of Legislative Initiatives; LGBT Human Rights Center "Nash Svit"; CO "CF 'Vostok-SOS'"; NGO "Blakytny Ptakh"; NGO "Authorities Monitoring Center"; Bihus.Info; NGO "Donbas SOS"; NGO "Kyivsky Kotyky"; NGO "SVIZHA KROV"; NGO "Tsegla"; NGO "KrymSOS"; Anti-Corruption Research and Educational Center, Institute of Legislative Ideas, Crimean Human Rights Group.
Bills No. 8359 and No. 7033d were registered by deputy factions on January 13, 2023.
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